The Army's Marching Orders on Marriage: Jerks, No; Acronyms, Yes

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

They are the Pentagon's new "rules of engagement": U.S. Army chaplains are trying to teach troops how to pick the right spouse, through a program called "How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk."

The matchmaking advice comes as military family life is being stressed: Defense Department records show that more than 56,000 people in the Army -- active-duty, National Guard and reserve -- have divorced since the campaign in Afghanistan started in 2001.

Officials partly blame long and repeated deployments that started after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and stretched the service thin. Troops also are coming home with life-altering injuries.

"Being in the military certainly raises the stakes when you choose a mate," said Lt. Col. Peter Frederich, head of family issues in the Pentagon's chaplain office.

The program is also called "PICK a Partner," for Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge.

It advises the marriage-bound to study a partner's FACES -- family background, attitudes, compatibility, experiences in previous relationships and skills they would bring to the union. It teaches the them to pace themselves with a RAM chart -- the Relationship Attachment Model, which basically says not to let your sexual involvement exceed your level of commitment or level of knowledge about the other person.

Maj. John Kegley, a chaplain who teaches the program in Monterey, Calif., throws in the "no jerks" salute: One hand at the heart and two fingers at the brow is a signal to use your heart and brain when choosing.

The program was created by former minister John Van Epp of Medina, Ohio, who has a doctorate in psychology and a private counseling practice. He teaches it to Army chaplains, who teach it to troops. It also is used by social service agencies, prisons, churches and other groups.

Commanders once discouraged troops from starting a family while serving. Thus the old saying "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one." Today, the military supports families more than any other employer, Frederich said. The Bush administration proposes to spend $5.6 billion in the next budget year for quality-of-life services for troops and their families.

Despite such support, Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd said, "not everybody is cut out" to marry into the military.

The Army hopes the "no jerks" program will help couples decide if they are ready for a long-term commitment and can cope with the unique stresses of military life.

"Settings like military bases are incubators," Van Epp said. "They try to hatch . . . relationships extremely fast," leading to higher divorce rates and more domestic violence.

The program teaches troops not to cave in to the pressure of a ticking clock -- such as rushing to marry before shipping out for a deployment, or too soon after homecoming.

Last month, Van Epp sent 200 program workbooks to troops in Iraq.

-- Associated Press

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